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Bridge replacement sparks public safety discussion

The Highway 58 bridge over the Zumbro River in Zumbrota is one of the worst in the state. It will be replaced next summer.

Zumbrota public safety officials are discussing ways to efficiently provide emergency services while the Highway 58 bridge over the Zumbro River is out of service next year.

Minnesota Department of Transportation officials will tear down the more than 70-year-old structure -- one of the worst in Minnesota -- in May and replace it with a wider, longer bridge, said MnDOT's Fausto Cabral.

Zumbrota officials are considering placing emergency vehicles and staff on both sides of the river since no temporary bridge will be built and the anticipated detour route would mean lagging response times for about three months.

"We'll have another 35W on our hands if we let (the bridge) go much longer. It needs to come out and get fixed," said Neil Jensen, Zumbrota city administrator. "So how do we best prepare ourselves? We have meetings, we discuss it, we figure out the best alternatives."

Jensen said fire, ambulance and police staff have been discussing options. Those public safety officials have been invited to a September Zumbrota City Council meeting -- along with MnDOT officials -- to share their plans.

The meeting is open to the public.

Cabral said it is common for city officials to consider placing emergency crews and equipment in separate areas when a bridge is replaced.

"It happens in all shapes and forms depending on the size of the community," Cabral said. " It's always a concern on our part because we need to do the project ... but we need to try to accommodate the contingencies during construction."

A temporary bridge would be cost prohibitive, Jensen said. Also, there is not enough room to build one.

Cabral said MnDOT officials cannot develop contingency plans for local jurisdictions but will offer assistance and suggestions.

The replacement is expected to cost about $1.5 million, Cabral said. The detour -- which Jensen said lengthens travel time by seven minutes -- will route drivers along County Roads 10, 48 and 4.

"It's a pretty good detour except for emergency services," said Ken Bjornstad with Goodhue County Public Works. "I can see where they have some concerns."

Jensen said city and public safety employees will continue examining how to provide quick public safety services to residents on both sides of the river.

The public is encouraged to attend City Council hearings with any suggestions.

"We're working on it," Jensen said. "We'll get there."

The Zumbrota bridge was built in 1932 and carries a daily average of 6,700 cars, according to MnDOT.

In 2007, the two-lane structure spanning Zumbro River's north fork fell in the structurally deficient category with an 18.4 sufficiency rating, according to the Federal Highway Administration's National Bridge Inventory database.

Sufficiency ratings can range from zero to 100. New bridges receive a 100 ranking.